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How a Prominent Composer Lost His Wikipedia Page—and Got Entangled in Kafkaesque Nightmare Trying to Get it Back
Bruce Faulconer deserves better, but the system seems rigged against him
A few days ago, composer Bruce Faulconer found that his Wikipedia entry had suddenly disappeared. This was surprising because his music is known and beloved all over the world—in fact, it has been heard in more than 80 countries.
According to the Internet Archive, he has had a Wikipedia entry for at least the last 15 years. But then, in a flash, it was gone.
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As he probed into this situation, he discovered that trolls did this because he isn’t a “relevant” composer. This, too, is puzzling. Faulconer’s IMDB listing has dozens of credits going back more than two decades. He is especially well known for his contributions to Dragon Ball Z, a hugely popular Japanese anime show, where Faulconer’s music was featured on 224 episodes, and resulted in nine soundtrack albums.
According to one source, Dragon Ball Z was the “number one rated show for all of cable TV for Children's Programming in six market demographics.” But Faulconer has done much else besides—and his bio is filled with lists of prizes in composition contests, grants from the NEA and other organizations, as well as commissions from dozens of prominent institutions and individuals.
If you visit CakeMix, the impressive recording studio he operates in the Dallas area, you will see shelves filled with his awards and honors. Over the years, his work as a composer has been supported by the Dallas Symphony, the Fort Worth Symphony, the San Antonio Symphony, and other orchestras throughout the state and elsewhere. And when he isn’t pursuing his own projects, he is engineering records for other prominent artists, and sharing his expertise generously with others. He operates one of the finest recording studios in the Southwest, and makes numerous contributions to the regional music ecosystem over and beyond his work as a composer.
By any measure, he earns his Wikipedia page, and much else besides.
What justification was given for its removal? When a troll demanded that he have an entry in the Grove Dictionary of Music (run by Oxford University Press), you begin to understand the biases they hold.
I can say this with some authority, because I’ve been a Grove contributor, and have published 8 music books with Oxford University Press—I love these institutions, but they are not authoritative guides for new and alternative media such as anime soundtracks. Wikipedia should know better.
And, of course, they do know better. Thousands of prominent musicians have Wikipedia entries without getting into Grove.
“I raise this not just to get fair treatment for one composer, but also because this situation is emblematic of a systemic failing among older web platforms. Websites that were launched with the goal of serving users have gradually turned into petty fiefdoms.”
But this is hardly the first example of inconsistency and foolishness at Wikipedia, nor the only time petty tyrants connected with the site have imposed their spurious opinions via the platform. “Wikipedia has turned into an online totalitarian regime,” according to website Quora, “with administrators at the throne.” The rest of us merely bow and scrape.
In an especially ridiculous instance, a woman won the Nobel Prize in Physics, but had been denied a Wikipedia entry. According to the Washington Post, this was just another example of the “drive-by deletion” process that seemingly operates like a first person shooter game in which only editors get to play. Just a few months before Donna Strickland won the Nobel, a Wikipedia editor had smugly insisted that she wasn’t a notable physicist.
In another bizarre case, an editor at Wikipedia told Philip Roth, “one of the most awarded American authors of his generation” (according to Wikipedia) that he was not a reliable source on the subject of Philip Roth.
What could Roth do? He eventually responded to the Wikipedia editor in a famous open letter in The New Yorker. And in a grand moment of irony, that article—which turned Wikipedia into a laughingstock, and justifiably so—was considered a reliable citation. It now shows up in Wikipedia footnotes, and Roth got his way.
So let this article I’m writing now serve the same function, namely as an authoritative independent source suitable for footnotes and bibliographies. I am considered a reliable source on thousands of Wikipedia pages—so what will the editors do when I say here in print that Bruce Faulconer is a significant American composer and clearly deserves the reinstatement of his Wikipedia entry?
Would they like to see my CV? Can I see theirs?
Of course, many attempts have already been made to provide the citations that Faulconer supposedly requires. The trolls say there aren’t enough sources. But when more are provided, they are ignored or deleted by the same hostile parties who went after him in the first place.
This seems to be the Wikipedia philosophy: Heads we win, tails you lose.
I’d love to rectify this, but I can’t find any way of adding citations to a deleted article. I think this is called a Catch-22.
Which leads to an even bigger problem: There’s no fair and transparent appeal process at Wikipedia.
When I tried to find one, it took hours of fruitless inquiry. Many people told me that there was no process, and had painful stories to back up their claim. But, finally, I was directed to a page with instructions on the computer code templates that must be used when dealing with deleted pages.
I wish Kafka were alive to see this. Check it out:
This kind of system is clearly designed to intimidate and bully. It’s even worse than trying to cancel cable service at Comcast, which has been described as “an extra circle of hell” in Dante’s Inferno—at least you get to talk to one of the devils in that scenario. I consider myself fairly tech savvy, but I can’t participate in a process of this sort. What recourse do you have if you aren’t a coder?
I asked around about this. The short summary is: Tough luck, buddy.
Another individual, clearly more persistent than me, found a way of contacting the Wikimedia Foundation about Faulconer’s situation—not easy to do. He sent me the response he received. “decisions are not made centrally”. . . blah, blah, blah. A different approach, but the same result: Tough luck buddy.
Let me suggest that this should be the new motto for Wikipedia—which is much better than the current slogans under consideration.
I raise this not just to get fair treatment for one composer, but also because this situation is emblematic of a systemic failing among older web platforms. Websites that were launched with the goal of serving users have gradually turned into petty fiefdoms. Operations that were once open-sourced and community minded, become inside jobs and close-minded. There’s no accountability to anyone outside the system, and the appeal process is deliberately made opaque and unresponsive to complaints.
That’s Wikipedia nowadays.
They ought to do right by Bruce Faulconer. But, even more, they also should fix their broken system. They probably think they are above criticism of this sort—certainly that’s how they act. But they really aren’t.
The Wikimedia Foundation is a non-profit, and just as there are criteria for inclusion as an American composer, there are also requirements for maintaining tax-exempt status. Even more to the point, Wikipedia depends on benefactors and donors to pay its executive salaries. Those generous supporters should consider imitating the Wikipedia editors themselves, and set a few rules and guidelines of their own before giving again.
In the spirit of Wikipedia procedures and reliable source documents, I want to add a few endnotes to this article.
FIFTEEN YEARS (Par. 2): As the evidence here makes clear, Faulconer is clearly deserving of a Wikipedia entry under any circumstances. But there’s a separate issue of the burden of proof required to remove an entry after 15 years. That’s an extraordinary and unsettling move, and should require a much higher threshhold of evidence and safeguards.
TROLLS (Par. 3): Here’s my conversation with Faulconer on the use of this word:
Ted: People may question the suitability of the word trolls here—some of these trolls are Wikipedia editors
Bruce: When they act in this way, they behave like trolls. So it’s a fair word.
Ted: Yes, that’s my considered judgment too.
NUMBER ONE RATED SHOW (Par. 4): This was in 2003.
COMCAST and DANTE’S INFERNO (Par. 22): Harrowing accounts of customer service calls at Comcast are easy to find online. The particular incident referenced here can be read at this link. But even Comcast does not create coding tests for customers—well, at least not yet.
POSTSCRIPT: A correspondent sent me a list of links that could be used as sources for a new Wikipedia page for Bruce Faulconer (in addition to the article above). Perhaps some tech savvy music lover can help make this happen.